How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

by Crystal McDowell · Print Print · Email Email

It was over 15 years ago when I first read Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend’s breakthrough book, Boundaries. It was one of the most significant milestones of my life and to this day continues to help me navigate through relationships with other people. Before I read that book, I was constantly bound with trying to please other people, struggling with sticking to a “no” answer, and regularly debasing my feelings instead of taking them into account.

Through the grace of God I’ve been set free from that bondage of being held hostage to other people’s lack of control and to speak the truth in love firmly. You can set healthy boundaries by:

Accepting that it’s okay to say ‘no’ in healthy relationships

“All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (James 5:12).

There are times to say ‘yes’ and to say ‘no’ in every relationship. We can only learn this by practicing it. It isn’t sinful to turn people down when necessary. It’s sinful to say ‘no’ to God when the Holy Spirit is urging you forward. However the Lord brings a gentle conviction, not condemnation which comes from the evil one.

Accepting that everyone isn’t going to be happy about respecting your boundaries

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

If you embrace the fact that you aren’t going to please everyone, it’s much easier to deal with when it happens. We are called to please God first and foremost. Sometimes you will be led by the Holy Spirit to turn down something ‘good’ because He has something ‘great’ in store for you. The key is to get past pouty faces and guilt trips to move courageously forward in faith.

Accepting the freedom of releasing a repeat boundary offender

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

After living under the control of people, there’s a real spiritual and emotional sense of complete freedom when you set healthy boundaries. You are free to make your own decisions and live by the consequences of them—rather than living under someone else’s consequences. This freedom allows you to hear with more clarity from God on what He wants to do in you and through you for His kingdom.

Boundaries are a gift from God to those who want to live in the freedom of discovering who they really are in Christ.

Boundaries are a gift from God to those who want to live in the freedom of discovering who they really are in Christ.

Accepting that God wants you to establish healthy boundaries

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6).

God the Father sent Jesus Christ so that we can be free from bondages of every kind—spiritual, emotional, and physical. He wants all of your heart rather than serving with a divided one. Once you establish healthy boundaries, you can sense God’s peace and presence over your life. There’s a greater capacity for experiencing an adventurous faith walk when you have healthy boundaries in relationships.

Accepting your value is beyond measure making boundaries necessary

“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7).

Many people who struggle with boundary issues in relationships also have problems with accepting their unique and beautiful value in Christ. A low self-esteem breeds the tendency to believe that your feelings are inferior to the feelings of others. While we must take care not to think of ourselves as higher than others, we must accept our exceptional value in Christ just as we do other people.

Accepting that you’re doing a favor to family and friends by setting boundaries

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6).

When a family member or friend realizes and respects your boundaries—they become better people for it. They learn the value of having their own space and giving it to others. This is what long-term relationships are built on—mutual respect and trust. It may hurt at first, but the rich reward of connection and companionship will build on the right foundation.

Boundaries are a Good Thing…

Without the boundary of skin, our bodies would succumb to many diseases. Without the boundaries of fences, young children and pets could suffer physical harm. Without the boundaries of healthy relationships, we would never know true love and affection. Boundaries are a gift from God to those who want to live in the freedom of discovering who they really are in Christ.

Read this related article: How to say “No” Without Shame, Regret or Guilt

Resource – New International Version Bible, The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblca, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela August 2, 2014 at 9:12 am

Great article Crystal. Thanks

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John L. August 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm

True inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Many people do not know their worth and accept mediocre from themselves and other people. This article was what I needed to read, today!!! due to an experience w/ a friend that has been plaguing me all morning. How’s that for a God moment? Now I feel “convicted” in strength to make the right decision. God bless and thank you for publishing this, Crystal.

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Kris August 2, 2014 at 5:09 pm

How timely this is ! I did not grow up being trained up in the Word but my mother taught me some good perspectives but boundaries were not taught by the truth of the Word. When the humanist says ‘love your neighbor’ it is understood to always think of others desires as necessary …and that our existence is to make them happy is a virtue that many are actually being manipulated by and damaged!

Many loving Christians are being used and manipulated by those who see kindness and compassion as something they can USE . Not learning proper biblical boundaries has muddied the waters in terms of learning how to take to heart what are ‘red flags’

One ministry equated fear as if it was sinful! So what I was struggling with over many years was how to know the difference between fear and what was WISDOM in order to avoid trusting people and going into situations where it would have been WISE not to go!

The challenge in my mind was to say to myself ‘ Hey …Jesus will take care of you …you just have to not fear and speak the word”! I had to back a rapist down after not heeding the wisdom to not go along …I was witnessing to him and not paying attention to where I was going! I ended up in a strange area and he turned to say” I’m going to rape you” …My only defense was to say “In the name of Jesus Christ you are NOT going to rape me”
He did turn and run …and that seems to have been God protecting a foolish young believer who was ignorant and had been taught a wrong understanding of what believing is ….since then I have had some occasions in my early life that I now have learned were foolish cavalier , not wise nor essential.

It reminds me of the taunt that the devil used on Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle…Thank God He has been patient to teach me as I go along …I have often trusted people giving them the benefit of the doubt but that has turned out to be mostly a foolish thing to do …yet GOD has preserved me …and has instructed me to be more inclined to caution when it comes to people and certainly not going into any situation that is not wise ….not out of fear but out of using the sense that the Word supplies as we grow up in the knowledge of the truth.

We live in an age typified by deceit and ungodly authorities posing and even using the name of Jesus Christ as a ‘cover’ or a kind of association that seems to endorse their ‘ministries’ …We are instructed to be wise by way of the instruction in righteousness that we may come to know through study of scripture in it’s total context ….

I have often erred on the side of trusting ….giving even my husband the benefit of the doubt but learning from God how to understand the righteousness of godly boundaries is dearly needed in this day and time …the issues at the boarders has also brought this to light as people fail to understand the reasonable sovereignty of a nation where the rule of law is for protection of those who are willing to live by the rule of law for the benefits that have been grown under such ORDER that we have enjoyed until lately.

Godly order has been challenged and attacked in every venue as the end of the age seems to be upon us more and more clearly . Boundaries of marriage, property and personal privacy are being attacked much like a tidal wave unleashed upon our whole culture as more and more have turned away from the Lord, His word and all that He has warned and promised to us.

May we pray for the deliverance that will only come through Jesus Christ , personally and on a broader scale …whomsoever wills to seek Him while he has promised those who believe that GOD IS and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek HIM!

Thanks for your most helpful post! Very important topic!

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